Saturday, February 12, 2011

natural order of death

The other day I was watched a National Geographic video, Stress - Portrait of a Killer. An educational video about the impact of stress on the body.

In the video there was this short clip of a lion chasing a baby zebra, and it stirred something in me. (Thankfully, the video ends before you see the lion devouring the baby zebra.) It is natural for predators to hunt their prey, this is essential for survival. But something about watching it happen was disturbing.

When I first watched the video, I was first drawn to the zebra running along side the lion and I asked myself, why is that zebra running with the lion rather than running away? Then it dawned on me that that zebra was the mother of the little zebra being chased. Instantly my heart sank - how terrible! The mother was powerless to stop the lion but she was certainly not going to abandon her little one in its time of need. It looks like she is screaming as she is running. What was it like for her to watch her precious little one get eaten by the lion?

I watched the video from my anthropomorphized zebra's perspective. What about the lion's perspective? If the lion became vegetarian and the video was of it starving to death while zebras milled about my heart would also hurt. Perhaps suffering, death, and sorrow are inseparably linked.

Watching the lion run is impressive, it is so fluid in it's movements. The video is slowed down, which gives the impression the lion is moving rather effortlessly. At one point the lion causally looks over at the mother-zebra as if it's wondering why it is running with it. 

I understand that predators need to hunt and eat their prey, this is the basis for life in the natural world. Outside cats do this all the time with birds and mice. To me, seeing the mother-zebra's pain adds another dimension to the predator-prey relationship, more is at stake than life and death. The sorrowful mother-zebra must go on with her life, how does she adjust? Does she grieve?

When a kitty or human is absence from the house for a few days the remaining cats act a little different. They seem to wait with anticipation for the absence one to return. They know part of the family is absent, so why wouldn't this be true for the zebra as well?

This video also makes me wonder about the snuggly cute little predator in my lap. He's so sweet and yet he would have no problem hunting down a baby bird or mouse. He would love to. It's hard for my brain to accept that my cats are both cute, lovey, snuggly and vicious predators. If given the chance, they wouldn't hesitate to butcher a little bird in front of it's helpless mother. I am thankful they don't decide to come after me!

I can feel a little better by considering that mice don't seem to be pack animals like zebras, so maybe the momma mouse is not attached like the zebra? I don't know if that is true, but it sounds like a nice rationalization and it makes me feel better.

In general there is something about death being an important part of the circle of life that is bothersome. I can't escape that fact and maybe one day I will be better at accepting it and appreciating it. Today, I do know that the look on the mother-zebra's face is haunting.

(Video is copyright National Geographic Society)


  1. Oh now you've done it, I'm crying! I had to watch the video even though I knew that's what would happen -- because it happens every time I watch something like that. I know it's the natural order and that the lion has to eat and all, but I don't like it. I'm sure the mother zebra never gets over seeing her baby killed. It looked to me like she was trying to run faster so she could be the one the lion takes down instead of her baby. I also don't really know how mice feel or think, but when I lived on a 5-acre "gopher field" I would often wonder if the family missed the gopher that my cat killed that day and were distraught when they didn't come home. I'm not sure I will ever accept that death and killing are a natural part of the predator/prey relationship. I'm just too sensitive to animal suffering.

  2. Every living thing gets energy by devouring other living things on this planet, be it plant or animal. Vegetarians are still cannibals. Life eats life here. If you saw the animal you ate for dinner before it's meat is cleaned up, sliced, and neatly packaged and displayed in the supermarket, perhaps you would not be so keen to devour it. I do believe animals have some kind of soul or spirit as do the Native Americans believe. I do not believe in soulless "genetic" driven feelings. If I am wrong, we must live in the hell of some wrathful unknown god! Enjoy your Sunday dinner, Phil! This is so good, I shall copy it and turn it into a depressing blog sometime in the future!


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